The Edible City: Grow Cook Share by Indira Naidoo »

An inspiring insight into the rise of community gardens

By Sara Schwarz
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The Edible City - grow, cook and share by Indira Naidoo

The Edible City - grow, cook and share by Indira Naidoo

The Edible City - grow, cook and share by Indira Naidoo


Part garden guide, part recipe book, part social commentary, Indira Naidoo’s latest book The Edible City: grow cook share, is an inspiring insight into the rise of community gardens within our urban areas and the important role they play in developing and sustaining our communities.

As urban sprawl slowly and steadily eats up the fertile land in and around our cities, a quiet revolution of green guerrillas are just as stealthily being mobilised. Community gardens of all shapes and sizes have been popping up across our nation, and Indira Naidoo – whose life changed forever when she naively began a garden on her balcony – has stepped out once again to investigate.

You may well be aware of Indira’s first book The Edible Balcony in which she documented the adventures of growing fruit and vegetables on her small inner city Sydney balcony.  Since then, she has won awards for her food activism and promotion of sustainability across our urban areas, and has led garden tours across the rooftops and balconies of Sydney and New York.

In The Edible City, Ms Naidoo investigates five very different community gardens that were set up for quite different purposes. The first is a rather spectacular rooftop garden on top of Sydney’s infamous Wayside Chapel, a refuge for many in inner city Sydney struggling with addiction and mental health issues, and Australian actor and Wayside Ambassador, David Wenham.

Major renovations of Wayside in recent years included a rather ambitious rooftop vegetable garden over 200sqm to be run and cared for by Wayside’s rather mixed bag of visitors, volunteers and staff, and Ms Naidoo was invited to join as a Garden Ambassador, an offer too inviting to refuse, no matter the myriad of challenges the garden and its caretakers would present.

From inner city Sydney to inner city Melbourne, the next garden documented is Mesa Verde, a restaurant and worm farm situated on top of the sixth floor of Curtin House in Swanston Street.  For me, composting is second nature, so I was staggered to discover Australians throw away over 4 million tonnes of perfectly edible food each year. The cost of it being collected, transported and disposed of, combined with the methane it generates, makes this a very expensive social and environmental problem.

Rich Thomas’s worm farm closes this loop: all food waste from Mesa Verde’s restaurant is converted via worms to fertilisers which are then fed to the vegetable gardens which provide the restaurant with produce.

Next stop on Ms Naidoo’s tour is Mt Carmel, an inner city primary school in Sydney who built a garden to solve a problem. Teachers were increasingly finding students were coming to school without a proper breakfast, leading to a range of health and behavioural issues. A Brekkie Club helped address the initial issues, but led to an understanding of how disconnected from food, their students and some parents had become, so plans were set in motion to expand an existing vegetable garden into a true education resource for the whole school community.

With many indigenous students amongst their ranks, introducing bush tucker as well as a range of staple fruit and veg just made perfect sense. Nowadays, the garden has become an essential component of schools life for students, staff and parents alike. Inner city children learn to appreciate how food is grown, and in turn are educating their families.

Thirty minutes up Sydney’s North Shore train line you will find yourself in a very different world from Mt Carmel. Here in leafy, wealthy Turramurra, it seems at first incongruous to have a community garden, but in recent years many large suburban blocks have been reinvented as medium to high density housing, and what space is left is generally overshadowed by towering gums.

Being an old Turramurra local myself, I was delighted to discover that an overgrown, underappreciated patch of land tucked away between a nursing home, major highway and a railway is now a thriving community garden, bringing the locals together, crossing demographic and socio-economic boundaries, and encouraging a variety of generations to interact, learn and grow as one.

Last stop on the tour brings us to a community garden in the heart of inner city Melbourne. Here amidst the run down 1960’s tower blocks that over 1800 people – speaking over a dozen different languages – all call home, you will find the Fitzroy Community Garden, where it doesn’t matter what language you speak, as long as you garden and respect other people.

For the residents of Atherton Gardens Estate, language barriers are broken down by the simple common task of gardening. Here plants, tips, techniques, produce and recipes are shared, and so cross cultural bonds are built in a way the United Nations can only dream.

Interspersed between these inspiring stories of friendship, hope and growth are tips on growing a range of fruit and vegetables, information on how to start and maintain a community garden, and of course a range of recipes using the produce from each.

This book will delight many, as it did my family. It will educate and inspire you, as it has me. I urge you to read this book and undertake some research on community gardens in your area, or if there isn’t one, The Edible City will inspire you to become a garden guerrilla and start one of your own.

The Edible City by Indira Naidoo is published by Penguin Australia (NSW, 2015, pb, 224pp, RRP A$45.00). It is available at good book stores  or find via »

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April 08th, 2016
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